Egyptian Dimension of Israel’s Disengagement – a Growth Factor

Billed as a unilateral disengagement blueprint for removing Israel’s civilian and military presence from the Gaza Strip, the diluted outline approved by the Israeli government Sunday, June 6, by 14 ministers to 7, actually opens an increasingly important back door for Egypt to establish an undercover presence in the West Bank as well as Gaza. Broadly, it initiates a joint US-backed Israeli-Egyptian effort to isolate Yasser Arafat and dismantle the vehicles he provides for Iran, the Hizballah and al Qaeda to penetrate Palestinian terrorist and security agencies.
For the present, all three partners share an interest in this objective.
However, not all the top levels of Israel’s military and intelligence are of one mind about the efficacy and prudence of this strategy. The positive view holds that the vanguard of Egyptian agents already present in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is making a welcome contribution to the effort to bring down the level of Palestinian terror against Israelis.
Last week, in fact, Israeli-Egyptian-US intelligence cooperation resulted in the interception in Istanbul of a large Ukrainian arms shipment, which debkafile‘s military sources reveal, was destined for Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip. It was carried by the Maltese-flagged Breze-47, an arms smuggling ship modeled on the Karine-A seized by Israeli commandos on the Red Sea in 2001. This time too, US satellites tracked the ship from its loading at Ukraine’s military port of Sevastopol on the Black Sea, after which an Egyptian-Israeli tip-off to the Turkish authorities ensured a reception committee for the illegal freight of radio-controlled missiles and launchers, grenade launchers, artillery shells, rockets, warheads and a large amount of ammunition packed in two containers when the ship docked at Ambarli, 20 miles from Istanbul.
Why did Egypt claimed ownership of the cargo and send a ship to collect it?
According to debkafile‘s sources, all the parties realized that letting the Israeli public know about a second large Palestinian arms smuggling ship, paid for jointly by the Palestinian Authority and Iran, would have poured more fuel on the already heated political debate between the pro- and anti-disengagement camps. The dissidents would have claimed it as ammunition to shoot Sharon’s plan down in cabinet. By claiming the cargo, Cairo prevented the episode from blowing up into a major scandal.
Our military sources add that since the arrival of the first Egyptian undercover agents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian attacks against Israelis have fallen off, after a previous decline as a result of effective IDF-Shin Beit counter-terror operations. This week, the total of Palestinian terror alerts is half the mid-May level. There is a sense of a certain cooling in the fervor of Palestinian terrorist organizations to attack Israelis.
But some top Israeli military and intelligence circles voice a contrary view, warning against the hazards of Israel succumbing to the “Iraqi Syndrome.” They argue:
1. The falling level of terror alerts owes more to the devastating blows inflicted on Palestinian terrorist infrastructure by the Shin Beit and Israeli forces than Egyptian intervention.
2. The Egyptians are spending money to buy the heads of terrorist cells away from their Iranian and Hizballah paymasters.
3. This method is lifted from Iraq, where high Iraqi officers are given a floating fund to collect a following of several hundred Iraqi fighting men and deploy them in urban hotspots against anti-US Baathist guerrillas and al Qaeda. What really happens, say debkafile‘s sources, is that a part of the American payment is funneled to the guerrillas and al Qaeda, who can consequently afford to rest up and return to the fray refreshed and with money enough to set in fresh supplies of weapons and explosives. This is already happening in the Sunni Triangle cities of Fallujah and Ramadi as well as Baghdad. The Egyptians propose copycatting this method of keeping the peace in Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin and Tulkarm, where calm already prevails amid almost nightly IDF sorties for keeping Palestinian terror at bay.
4. The big difference between the Iraqi and Palestinian arenas is this: The Americans or the British can at any time tell their paid Iraqi surrogates to fight or alternatively to remove themselves. But the Israeli government and its armed forces will have no control over Egyptian military and intelligence men deployed in Palestinian areas. To bring them into play, Israel will have to go through government channels in Cairo. But what if the Egyptians, like the Palestinian Authority, refuse to cooperate? Any such refusal would cause immediate friction between Jerusalem and Cairo and open the way for a dangerous situation familiar from the troubled past prior to the peace accord when Egyptian forces acted as a buffer to protect Palestinian terrorists from Israeli counter-terror operations.

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